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Ready to Give an Answer: An interview with Pat Boone

By John W. Whitehead
December 02, 2002

Born in 1934 and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Pat Boone was an unlikely candidate to be one of rock and roll’s first stars. A Bible-toting Christian since his early teens, Boone was the epitome of a clean-cut kid. He served as student body president his last year of high school and by the time he recorded "Ain’t That a Shame" in 1955, he had become a husband and father. His cover of Fats Domino was the first of a string of hits (eventually 38 in the Top 40) whose sheer commercial success was rivaled only by another Southern boy, Elvis Presley.

Needless to say, the two performers had different images. While Elvis was perceived as only a prurient interest, Boone, affable and easy-going in style and song, had a safe, vanilla air that appealed to many parents. The kids seemed to like both performers equally. A boy could be seen wearing painted-on sideburns–Elvis’ trademark–with Boone-inspired white bucks. Yet a clear divide separated the two. While fame sent Elvis onto an opulent but drug-hazed and empty life, Boone drifted into gospel music where he has found shelter ever since.

Although Boone’s early success also included starring roles in films, by the mid-sixties, he had all but disappeared from the popular musical scene. But with a degree from Columbia University that he earned in 1958, Boone was also a wily businessman. While most American artists were suffering in the face of the British Invasion, Boone was selling paintings of the mop-tops. "I couldn’t sell records so I sold prints of the Beatles," he says.

Once out of the public sector, Boone focused on his first love, church music. Even at his most successful, Boone had remained in touch with his Christian musical roots, leading a local choir every Sunday while in school in New York. He would eventually form his own gospel label and record over 20 albums for it.

Although Boone continued to remain viable in Christian circles, it wasn’t until a 1997 record release that he returned to the mass public eye. Inspired by new friends Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne (Boone lived close to both), No More Nice Guy featured Boone covering an album’s worth of heavy metal tunes by such bands as Van Halen, Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, and Led Zeppelin. But after appearing on national TV sporting fake tattoos, an earring, and a leather vest, Boone quickly found himself at the center of a controversy. While the secular world seemed to get the joke (someone with the image of Boone doing big band renditions of heavy metal tunes), Christian circles were outraged, offended by his attire and the lyrics of his new songs. While the collective anger would eventually dissipate, for the first time in his career, Boone felt the ire Elvis had received over forty years earlier.

Today, Pat Boone is once again re-entering the cultural fray with his latest project, "Under God," a song pleading with America to return to its Judeo-Christian roots. Over a contemporary Christian soundscape, he asks, "How can we exist apart from God?" Boone believes that the separation of church and state is a concept that has been severely misinterpreted in current society. "They say you can’t legislate morality," he says. "I disagree with that, and so did the founding fathers."

Pat Boone recently took a break from promoting his new single to speak by phone from his home in California.

JWW: There are only six artists–Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder–who rank above you in total singles sales in their chart positions. You had 60 hits in the U.S. singles chart in your career and 6 that reached number one. What a remarkable career. I assume you’re happy with what’s happened with your music.

PB: Of course. My only regret is that my film career didn’t go further. My role model and semi-idol Bing Crosby was still acting and recording into his early seventies. Although I haven’t been seriously considered for any kind of acting award, I think I’m capable of that if the right role comes along. So if it does, great; if not, I am immensely happy. In fact, I am totally amazed at what happened to a kid from Nashville with no particular training. It was just a love of music and sort of dreams and even surreptitious prayers that I might have a shot at singing for people.

Obviously you’ve had an influence, possibly second only to Elvis in the ‘50s in terms of image. Elvis had that snarling lip and swiveling hips and outrageous clothes. He was the rebel. Then here comes Pat Boone who wore white bucks. You were polite and had a wife and children during your heyday. There are some who believe that Pat Boone legitimized rock and roll in the eyes of the white middle class.

I don’t think there’s any question about it. For folks who didn’t live through the era and were too young to really grasp all the context of what was happening, it was a turbulent time. It was a very controversial time. I was in the middle of the controversy, as was Elvis. Fortunately for me, I had a six-month head start on him. My first record came out in March of 1955. My second one, "Ain’t That A Shame," which went right to number one came out, I believe, in August or September that same year. Elvis’ "Heartbreak Hotel" came out in the fall of 1955. Thus, I had virtually a six-month head start which, of course, meant that as his phenomenon erupted–it was sort of like an eruption out of the earth–I happened to be sitting on top of it. So I rode the crest. I was the opposite of Elvis. As you said, he was the rebel. He was the guy the parents and preachers and teachers were all getting upset about because he was a single guy wiggling his hips and snarling and mumbling. There was obviously something very erotic about what he did. Meanwhile, I was having hit after hit and was going to college and was married and having kids and going to church. I was the guy playing by all the rules and winning. Elvis was the guy breaking the rules and winning as well. We both appealed to a lot of the same fans but for different reasons. He was pepper, and I was salt.

Did you ever meet Elvis?

Oh, yes. We met the first time in Cleveland in September of 1955. Bill Randall was the nation’s number one DJ at that time. Whatever he said and whatever pronouncement he made about a new record, that was it. All the other DJs around the country followed suit. That was before Alan Freed became so influential. But at the time Bill was number one, and he brought me in from New York where I had moved with my wife to go to school at Columbia University. Bill asked me to headline a Sock Hop, which Universal Studios was filming. The studio was doing a documentary on a day in the life of the nation’s number one DJ.

When Bill picked me up at the Cleveland Airport, he said, "I’m bringing a kid up from Shreveport that I think is going to create a stir tonight." I said, "Who’s that?" And he said, "Elvis Presley." I had seen Presley’s name on some country juke boxes in Dallas, around Denton where I was in school at North Texas State. I said, "Man, Bill, he’s a hillbilly. Do you think he’s going to go over well tonight in Cleveland?" And Bill said, "Yeah, he’s just been signed to RCA, and they’re pretty high on him. We’ll see, but I think he’s going to be a star." That night, the high school gymnasium was filled to the brim with Cleveland teenagers. I was waiting backstage, and in walked Elvis. Even then, Elvis traveled with a little entourage. His collar was turned up and his hair was sort of greased and way too long and hanging down over his turned-up collar. His pants were too long, and he seemed quite shy. Here I was in my button-down shirt and tie. I reached out my hand and said, "Hey, Elvis. I’m Pat Boone." And he said, "Nice to meet you," a mumbled kind of thing. So I said, "Bill Randall said he thinks you’re going to really be big." And Elvis mumbled, "Well, I don’t know about that" and just sort of slouched back against the wall. His handshake was sort of limp and sweaty and I thought, "Man, this guy is too shy. This is going to be a disaster."

When it was time for Elvis to go out on stage, Bill introduced him as an up-and-coming recording artist with a new record coming out soon on RCA. Then Elvis went out and lip-synched "That’s All Right Mama" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The kids didn’t know what to make of him because he was the prototypical "greaser." At that time, the "greasers" were a little group of outsiders in the school who might be somewhat fascinating to some of the girls. Mainly they were really just a lower caste, but the guy certainly had something. There was charisma and excitement. And I had to follow him! Thank God I had "Two Hearts and Two Kisses," which was my first record. It had gone into the Top 10 and eventually sold a million copies, and "Ain’t That A Shame" was rocketing to number one. That was the one and only time I followed him. Later, after we got to be friends and visited each other in our leased homes in Belair, I said, "Elvis, that first time we met I thought you were way too shy to be a successful performer." And he said, "Well, man, you were a star." "A star," I said. "I had two records. I was only six months older than you and you considered me a star." He said, "Yeah, man. You were on the charts. I didn’t know what to say to you." He got over that shyness, of course, and he and I stayed friends right up to about a month before he died. That was the last time we were together.

The objection to Elvis and rock music was that both were bad for young people. Some even argue that all rock is inherently evil and even satanic. How do you respond to that?

Well, I didn’t quite know what to make of it at the time. I was just a church-going married kid from Nashville, and I was very scrupulous about the lyrics I sang. I even changed objectionable lyrics. Little Richard’s "Tutti-Frutti" had a line in there about "pretty little Suzie. Boy, you don’t know what she’d do to me." When I covered the song, I changed it to "pretty little Suzie is the girl for me." Those were very innocuous lines, really. However, I was worried about whatever negative influence this new thing called rock ‘n’ roll might have on kids.

Even if rock music is not inherently evil, can it be evil?

Oh, yes. But there can’t be anything inherently evil about a beat or a rhythm. For instance, Ravel’s Bolero is one of the most sensual things ever written, and it’s considered great classical music. It has almost a jungle savage eroticism that builds in it. A lot of folks don’t know that. However, I found this out myself when I went through a heavy metal phase about four or five years ago and did some heavy metal classics of big band music jazz style.

I’m going to ask you about that in due time.

I did some research and discovered that "Amazing Grace," the church song, was actually an old English drinking pub song. The writer of the lyrics was a sea captain who had been a slave trader. He wrote words about his conversion, which was amazing to him. He used a melody that he was familiar with, which was a drinking song from the pubs in England. That is also the case with our National Anthem. Francis Scott Key first wrote the words to the "Star Spangled Banner." Next, he searched for a melody and chose one that had also been an English pub song. It was a drinking song, definitely an ode to Bacchus. Thus, our National Anthem and "Amazing Grace" both started out as drinking songs. That is obvious proof that there is nothing inherently evil in the melody or the rhythm. It’s just the words that you put to the melody and also the intent of the performer.

There is the lingering charge that somehow you raided the music coffers of Black musicians. In 1957, several disc jockeys, including Alan Freed, refused to play your cover of Lucky Millinder’s "I’m Waiting Just For You." The charge was that you were plundering the work of Black artists. In fact, virtually all the records you made in 1955 and 1956, the period that basically established you, were covers of Black artists such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Flamingoes, Ivory Joe Hunter and Joe Turner. How do you respond to this?

You had to live through the time to have an accurate perspective. It really galls me when young people who didn’t live through that era echo this idea. It’s an idea that is sometimes promoted by artists such as Little Richard, who feels that he got gypped. Artists like Little Richard would write a song in 15 minutes, and somebody would offer them 500 bucks for it. And they would take it. Then it would turn out not only to be a hit but a classic, and they felt robbed. And some of them have lashed out at everybody.

During the time I was recording Little Richard’s, Fats Domino’s and Ivory Joe Hunter’s songs, they were hits in the R&B field which, by the way, was its own musical ghetto. They had their own R&B stations and charts, and their music did not get played in general society. It was totally ignored and looked down on by pop radio. However, in the mid-’50s when several artists, of which I was one, began to record cleaned-up pop versions of some of those R&B songs and had hits with them, it attracted attention to the Black artists and their original songs. For instance, "Ain’t That A Shame" was a number one R&B hit by Fats Domino, but it wasn’t getting any air play across the country. It wasn’t going to be a hit in the pop world. However, when I recorded my version, it went right to number one. My version also went to number four on the same R&B chart where Fats had been number one. Thus, I was suddenly an accepted R&B artist. In fact, I had nine records on the R&B charts during that period. I was considered an R&B artist by the same R&B DJs and record buyers that liked Little Richard and Fats Domino. I was introducing their music and them to this vast pop audience that previously knew nothing about them. The proof is that there were countless R&B hits during that time that nobody covered or did pop versions of, and nobody knows them today. The only ones anybody knows from that era are the songs that were covered not only by white artists but by other pop artists such as Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and the Mills Brothers. It wasn’t a Black/White thing. It was a musical-found thing. The original R&B was just too ethnic, too raw sounding and too unpolished to get on pop radio until some of us made it acceptable. Then Alan Freed refused to play any but the original records–no covers–and pretty soon the cover record era was gone. However, it was a necessary transition period.

So you believe you were a bridge for Black artists?

I was a midwife for rock and roll. For better or worse.

It seems that at a certain point, though, you switched to ballads like "April Love," "Love Letters in the Sand" and "Friendly Persuasion." Was that a conscious move?

Well, partly. When I was growing up in Nashville, I sang all the pop ballads of the day. I loved Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Vic Damone and Eddie Fisher. That was what I loved most and knew. I mean, I didn’t know about R&B until Randy Wood at DOT Records began to put songs in front of me to record. Then I immersed myself in the original sounds and did my best to emulate them. Admittedly, my records were vanilla compared to the originals. If they hadn’t been, they wouldn’t have gotten played.

The funny thing is that a lot of people in the early days thought I was a Black artist. I would go into radio stations in the first few months of my career and be introduced by a promotion guy to DJs. He would say, "This is Pat Boone. He’s got that big record "Ain’t That A Shame." But they wouldn’t believe it. I would have to show them my bracelet or something because they were expecting a Black guy. Also, as vanilla as my records may sound today, you make the wrong comparison if you compare them to Little Richard or Fats. You need to compare my records to Eddie Fisher, Perry Como and Patti Page and other records that were happening at that time. Suddenly mine sound raw and loud and pretty arresting compared to "How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?"

Eventually, the decline came. Most people think it was when the Beatles hit America. Is that what affected your record sales, your career?

Oh, of course. First of all, I was in England around 1961 and I heard a Beatle song called "From Me To You." "If there’s anything that you want, if there’s anything I can do." I brought the song home and tried to get Randy Wood at DOT to let me record it. He said, "No, that song has already been out on the VeeJay label, and I know who the Beatles are. They’re just English. They’re too British and English. They’re not going to mean anything here." And I said, "Boy, I like that song, Randy. I sure wish I could do it." Well, a couple of years later they had five of the top ten records at once and were selling about 40 or 50 percent of all pop records. The rest of us were just scrambling around for our little piece of whatever was left. Sure, it knocked my record royalties into a cocked hat, as it did many other artists. But I’m very proud of one thing I did at that time. Since I couldn’t fight them on records–nobody could–I got a painter to do oil portraits of each Beatle individually and then a group portrait. I went to their manager and their licensing entity and got permission. Then we made an arrangement with Sears and other companies, and we sold prints of those Beatle pictures. For a year, I made more selling Beatle prints than records. I was in the Cave in Liverpool three or four years ago…

The Cavern.

Yes, the Cavern. It’s a Beatle shrine now, and they have those prints of the Beatles prominently displayed. I said, "Hey, I did those." I couldn’t sell records so I sold prints of The Beatles.

You’ve always been a good businessman.

Well, I’ve sure tried.

After that, you progressively moved into Christian and gospel music.

From the beginning of my career, I was very active in church. I was an openly-avowed Christian, even when I was in school at Columbia and my records were roaring hot and Elvis and I were one and two back and forth on the charts. During that time, I was still leading the singing at a congregation at 48 East 80th in Manhattan every Sunday morning, Sunday night and usually Wednesday night. I also recorded gospel songs during the early days and did an album in the late ‘50s called Hymns We Love. And because no one was really keeping up with it at the time, it quietly sold over a million records. I think it was the very first million selling gospel album. However, because my other songs were so hot, it was one of those things that hardly received any notice. I also had a million selling number one record called "Wonderful Time Up There." It was an old Wally Fowler all- night singing kind of song from the South/Southeast. This was when people would actually stay up all night listening to gospel quartets, and almost every one of them at some point would sing that song: "Everybody gonna have religion in glory, everybody gonna be singing that story, everybody gonna have a wonderful time up there, oh glory hallelujah." I recorded that sort of pop rock style. I wasn’t sure I should, but Randy Wood at Dot was. It went right to number one. So here was a number one gospel song–pure sermon–that was number one. Eventually I started my own gospel label, Lamb & Lion, and have done probably 25 gospel albums.

When did you become a Christian?

I was 13. But I must say that I didn’t do it as a matter of rote or expectation. My parents were devout Christians. My dad was a building contractor, and my mom was a registered nurse–both very practical professions. However, they were very serious about our church involvement–reading the Bible together, praying together and so on with us kids. I was the oldest of four children, and the way Christianity was practiced in our home was very practical in itself. It was real. I knew that when I got to be 12, it was expected that I would walk down an aisle and confess my faith and be baptized and become a Christian. I didn’t want to do it just because it was expected of me. My brother is one year younger, and he beat me to it. People were beginning to look at me and sort of whispered to my parents, "What’s the matter with Pat? Why hasn’t he confessed his faith and been baptized?" Mom and Dad, to their credit, didn’t push me. They knew I was reading the Bible and wanted to understand it for myself. I wanted to know what I was doing. I wanted it to be real. I came across Jesus’ statement "If any man"–I knew that meant boy, girl, woman, anybody–"confesses me before men his peers, I will confess him before my Father" and "If he denies me, I will have to deny him before my Father in Heaven." It was then that I realized that the confession of faith, baptism and claiming Christ was the most important thing I would ever do in my existence. So I walked down the aisle. I was 13 when I confessed my faith and was baptized. Something happened inside me, and I knew that I was different. But I have to be honest. I haven’t always been what I would call a good Christian. But I’ve tried and I’ve known that I was a child of God and that he might discipline me. He might be disappointed in me, but he wouldn’t disown me.

Did you feel a bit disowned when you did your heavy metal album, Pat Boone In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy? I’ve read statements such as "Pat Boone sold his soul for rock ‘n’ roll" and that now you’re a disciple of Satan. I’ve faced that kind of criticism occasionally for some of my so-called controversial views.

Sure, I know you have.

That kind of criticism had to throw you for a loop.

The only thing about it that really surprised me was the widespread vehemence. I anticipated that there were going to be a lot of raised eyebrows and concerns. So, before the album ever came out, I wrote personal letters to people like James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Paul Crouch at TBN and others. I knew that when the album came out there would be some who would question Pat Boone doing heavy metal. "Doesn’t he realize this is the devil’s stuff?" So I wrote them to let them know in advance that I had gone over every lyric of the songs with a fine-toothed comb. Where I felt it necessary, I changed some words. For instance, compare the original lyric of "Stairway to Heaven" and my lyric at the very end. You’ll find that I turned the last line into a quasi-Christian statement, but I don’t think Jimmy Page is gonna sue me. But I was amazed at the negative response to the album.

I went on the American Music Awards. It was Dick Clark’s idea to appear with Alice Cooper to present the awards for hard rock heavy metal. It was supposed to be a tongue and cheek thing–a kind of broad joke that Dick came up with. He knew my album was coming out the next day–which was "big band jazz" treatments of heavy metal songs. So, he thought we would kid around with the idea of Pat Boone being involved with heavy metal and I would come out with Alice Cooper. And I did come out in leather, tattoos, choker and all that.

Were the earrings for real?

Well, they weren’t pierced. But yeah, they were real earrings.

So you don’t have pierced ears?

And the tattoos are real. I still have them upstairs in a drawer. But Alice Cooper was supposed to come out in a golf sweater, his hair pulled back under a golf cap, maybe wearing white bucks and even carrying a glass of milk. It would be obvious that we had swapped images, and everybody would get the joke. Well, at the last minute, Alice reneged. But I went ahead and did what I was supposed to do. Since Dick Clark had the leather vest and some leather pants made for me, I decided I was going to do it just for fun. Well, I evidently did it too well.

A lot of Christians don’t have a sense of humor.

That’s right. I understood it very well because obviously that’s my whole background. And I realized what had happened. Christians had seen the fall of personalities such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and others. And now Pat Boone has gone the way of heavy metal and he is going to…

Go over to the other side.

He has totally defected, sold out and flipped out. They didn’t wait to hear the music. I knew they would eventually and, as a result, I took it all with a big grain of salt. I almost enjoyed the controversy. If you’ve had an indelible image, as I have, for 40 years as too good to be true, goody-goody, self-righteous, pompous or whatever they thought, and all of a sudden I’m doing something that is totally out of character, it was neat to see the reaction.

My heavy metal album is something I can defend for its musical merits and even for its lyrical quality. Take, for instance, the Ozzy Osbourne song "Crazy Train." My version became the theme song of his TV show, and that was after he had been my neighbor for three years. But I really appreciated the lyric of Ozzy’s song because he was saying something very positive about the way kids today are deluged with contradictory messages, hypocrisy and double standards. It’s hard for them to cope with it. Ozzy was saying, "I’m going off the rails on a crazy train." I did it my way and my style. I didn’t think he liked it because he never mentioned it to me when we were neighbors. But then I turned on the TV show that’s raising all that dust, and sure enough, he’s using my version as his theme song. When he put out his new album, Ozzy Osbourne Family Favorites, my version of his song "Crazy Train" is the first cut on the album. What I treasure about all this is the friendship I now have with Metallica, Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and with many of the other artists like Ozzy. There is a friendship and an openness. I can share some things with Ozzy and others that otherwise I would have never had the opportunity to do so. And before, they wouldn’t have cared what I thought. Now they do.

So, all the metal stuff was an attempt to spread your religious message to others?

Well, it wasn’t intentional. I did the album because I had come to appreciate some of the music–not the way the heavy metal groups did it. I could never do it the way they did it, nor would I want to. I’m not into screaming, distortion and anger. But I had discovered some really good songs.

What kind of a neighbor was Ozzy Osbourne?

We were neighbors for three years, and he was really about as nice a neighbor as you could hope for. The only time there were any problems was when loud music was coming across Ozzy’s wall. However, I now know that it was his kids, Kelly and Jack and their friends, who were making all the ruckus. It wasn’t Ozzy or Sharon. I’ve visited in their home–they invited me over for tea–and I talked to Ozzy. We took pictures for Rolling Stone magazine. I was out in the back, supposedly helping Ozzy, as his next door neighbor, clean his pool, trim his roses and do some gardening. This, of course, was just for the photos. However, at one point we were standing in the kitchen and Ozzy said, "You know, I’ve been straight for seven months now. I go to AA every day." And then he said, "I even do the odd bit of praying now and then." I said, "Well, that’s not odd to me, Ozzy." So we developed a relationship. Later in their show, Ozzy said a number of times that Pat Boone was the best neighbor he’d ever had and he wished that I was still his neighbor. So, I guess the fact that I never complained about the loud music and we had some really nice pleasant visits made an impression. You can’t program that, and you can’t strategize it. You just simply roll with it. And when God allows it, you make the most of it that you can. But not in some intimidating…

Premeditated way.

Right. You just share who you are and what you believe is right as it comes up. I love the Scripture admonition, "Be ready to give an answer to every man that asks of thee the reason for your faith." I just try in my own way to help create a situation in which they ask me. I’d rather have them ask me why I live like I do than for me to volunteer it.

Ozzy’s show is termed by some the Leave It To Beaver of today. What do you think of that?

I hope that’s not true because it would be a very, very sad statement. I myself have said that living next door to Ozzy was sometimes more like living next door to Ozzie and Harriet Nelson than to the Prince of Darkness, as he calls himself. But there is almost an Armageddon going on in his house, with all the symbols. They have satanic symbols and all sorts of crucifixes, as well as Christian symbols. I believe Ozzy and Sharon are trying to sort it all out. They are who they are because of the way they were raised. They’re obviously the product of their environment and all the experiences they’ve had. We need to be understanding. One of the great lessons I learned from the whole controversy was that if we Christians don’t find things to commend in others as well as to condemn, we are going to have no communication at all.

Ozzy’s song "Crazy Train" focuses on the state of modern youth. There are tremendous problems with young people. For example, there is increasing drug usage in schools. And suicides are the second leading cause of death among teenage kids. When you travel around the country, you see churches virtually on every block. Why has the church not been better at reaching out to people?

There is so much selfishness and self-righteousness in modern Christian circles. But I think we are all heirs to this. I know it is something that has plagued me. When I thought I was doing all the right things, I probably seemed priggish to others. I had to learn to confront my own flaws and failures. That certainly should, and does, poke a hole in your sense of self-righteousness. The church, however, wants to wrench everybody around and make them just like us. I was just reading the other day in Colossians where Paul says, "Let your conversation be tempered with grace but seasoned with salt in your efforts to reach others." I think a lot of times we load up on salt and forget the grace. We find things to condemn, quite vocally. Take, for example, homosexuals and homosexuality. The church has been so stern about that. Christians in their confrontations and pronouncements have come across so harshly that people in the homosexual community–and to a great extent the public-at-large–feel that Christians are hateful, exclusionary, judgmental and that they are from another era. We need to be able to express love, compassion, support and help. If more churches became involved in trying to reach out to AIDS victims to show that they really do care, then the concerns that Christians have about the practice of homosexuality would carry more weight.

The church doesn’t seem to understand the problem. It is not communicating well.

You’re right. In fact, it’s even deeper. It’s a lack of communicating but also maybe not caring enough. I was in Atlanta, Georgia during Jimmy Carter’s campaign for the presidency. I was asked to lead a prayer and speak at a large Republican function there. Folks didn’t really think this peanut farmer from Georgia was going to get elected. It was a $500 per plate Republican dinner. After I led an opening prayer because the minister hadn’t shown up, this fat cat from Atlanta said, "Let me ask you something. How are we going to save our church?" I replied, "I thought that was Jesus’ job." He said, "Well, I mean, we got the young hippie ministers and they play their guitars. They play this hippie music. Why can’t we just sing the traditional songs the way we always have?" And I said, "Let me ask you one thing first. Is the hippie minister a believer? Is he a solid Christian?" "Oh, yeah," he said. "We wouldn’t have hired him if he wasn’t." "Do the kids like him?" I asked. "Oh, they love the music," he said. "But why can’t they sing ‘On Christ the Solid Rock’ or ‘Amazing Grace’?" To which I replied, "They probably would, but you know that today’s kids have their own language. It’s music. And on the day of Pentecost the Bible says that every man heard in his own language what the Apostles were preaching under the anointing and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Today’s language for kids is music. This minister you’ve got is preaching to them in a music that they receive. I think you ought to be very grateful to him." Well, that was just an illustration of the dilemma. We want to keep doing things the old-fashioned way and expect kids, no matter what peer pressures they are subjected to, to just conform to our way. We do not really understand or care enough to try to reach out to them in ways that they can and will receive.

One verse in your new song "Under God" states: "Lots of time has passed now and some people can’t relate. They don’t like public worship and they misuse church and state. But don’t forget Tom Jefferson whose words slice like a knife. We all owe our Creator our liberty, our life." Do you think things have gotten that bad? Are we that far out of synch?

We sure are. It is absolutely shocking and terrible that Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the separation of church and state phrase has been so distorted. He wrote a church in Danbury, Connecticut in the early 1800s, assuring them that the government was not going to establish a governmental or a state religion. In other words, the Baptists there in Danbury would not have to become Episcopalians. They could go on worshipping as they wanted to and as they felt they should. Jefferson said the First Amendment has erected a wall of separation. What he meant was a one-dimensional wall to keep the government’s hands off the church entirely.

I recently debated the atheist Mike Newdow on Crossfire, who opposes the "Under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. As a sidenote, it turns out that his daughter, who is a Christian, disagrees with him. Moreover, the mother of his daughter, who apparently he is not married to, is also a Christian, and they love to say the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" in it. Newdow argued what so many say today–that is, he quotes the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." But Newdow leaves out the rest of the sentence: "nor restricting the free exercise thereof." Newdow doesn’t want that to be heard because he is trying to restrict the free exercise of religion of 99 percent of Americans who want to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow doesn’t like it. So, he wants to shut us up. And he uses the first part of that sentence in the First Amendment to try to do it. Newdow will find a few judges like those nincompoops in San Francisco who will agree with him.

On Crossfire, I read the statement of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who contributed mightily to the writing of the Constitution itself. I quoted him as saying that the Constitution has created a Christian nation and that it’s our privilege, and indeed the duty of the citizens, to elect Christians as their representatives. Well, Crossfire’s Paul Begala went nuts. He said, "You mean, we are supposed to elect only Christians? I voted for Joe Lieberman. He’s gotten more votes than Dick Cheney." I said, "Look, I am not telling you what I think. I just read you a quote from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who helped write the Constitution. Those were the intentions of the founding fathers. This included Thomas Jefferson, who worshiped most Sundays when he was president. This went on for two terms in the largest congregation in Washington, which happened to meet in the Capitol building on Sunday morning. And we have gotten so far afield from that we are actually twisting his statement and the First Amendment itself to try to amend the reverse of what it actually means."

As you look out on the current horizon, there have been the 9-11 terrorist attacks, likely an upcoming war with Iraq, terrorist attacks around the world, moral decay in America. When you look at the future, what do you see? Where are we headed as a nation?

I’m an optimist by nature, but I’m afraid the Pandora’s box has been opened. They say you can’t legislate morality. I disagree with that, and so did the founding fathers. They did legislate a moral context in which morality was expected. In fact, John Adams said that the Constitution will only serve a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to any other. Therefore, it was the presumption of the founding fathers that we wanted to be moral and righteous. I’m afraid that today we have developed a spiritual trichinosis–those worms that get in the muscles and after a while you get weaker and weaker. You don’t even know why you’re growing weak. There is moral turpitude, there is apathy, there is a lack of caring that is growing. It’s widespread. People don’t seem to understand why it’s important to draw the line and demand moral behavior in business, politics, legalities anywhere. There are always loopholes, and if you want to find loopholes and you want to be immoral about it, then the Constitution will allow it. Thus, pornography and everything immoral are so rampant that I feel we are virtually headed toward the last roundup. I think there are going to be increasing wars. People will be trying to wrench everything back into some kind of semblance of order. This sets the stage for the Anti-Christ and Armageddon–and all those things the Bible says are going to happen. I think they are going to happen in our day. We have a ringside seat..